Never before have so many electronic resources been available to support the academic study of the English language. Indeed, understanding these resources plays a crucial role in analysing different aspects of the language. With a primary focus on vast principled electronic databases, or corpora, of the English language, this course should appeal to students (i) who wish to know more about the technology available to enhance their grasp of the lexis, grammar and discourse of English; (ii) who wish to explore how language is used in a vast quantity of ‘authentic’ texts, i.e. to explore ‘language-in-use’; (iii) who are simply curious about how the English language works and about new methods of exploring the topic.
To see how useful this course is, you can try jotting down your immediate thoughts about the sorts of nouns taken by cause as verb objects and then compare the list with the evidence obtained from a corpus such as the British National Corpus (BNC). The majority of examples in the BNC suggest something that is negative about the term cause. For example,
- the working and winning of aggregates is causing increasing public concern in terms of its serious and irreversible impact on the environment
- both caused sorrow to his community
- swearing not to cause such destruction again
- denies three counts of causing death by reckless driving
- had inevitably caused disruption in the nearby villages
- don't know which is causing the most pain
- Apart from the risk of causing injury
- This blaze caused damage estimated at half a million pounds
While the results of these searches may confirm your expectations or surprise you, checking your intuitions against corpus data can help you to confirm or challenge your preconceptions about words, what they mean and how they are used. We build up our intuitions, of course, from frequent encounters with the language we read or hear spoken. From each of these encounters we build up an evolving picture of what the word can most commonly and typically mean. By having access to a substantial number of these instances that a corpus readily affords, we can become aware of the patterns that remain below the surface of our consciousness.
This course has two distinctive features in its approach. First, it will take the form of unconventional lectures (with live demonstrations of online language resources) along with in-class student activities for hands-on experience with using these resources in the computer lab. Of course, no familiarity with computing is assumed. Through this active learning approach, students will learn how to carry out an empirical analysis of language data and thus gain insights into (i) how language is really used, rather than how people think it is used, and (ii) how it is commonly and typically used. The reason for this approach is that students will be able to see the differences between ‘School English’ and real-life English. Hence the course can raise students’ awareness and challenge their understanding of language.
Basics of corpus methods, corpus annotation, introducing concordances, collocation, discourse, lexis, corpus analysis and reporting
- Demonstrate an awareness of widely available electronic resources of the English language and develop skills of utilising these resources and foster an interest in lifelong exploration of the language
- Critically examine how online language resources allow us objective insights into different aspects of the English language (e.g. lexis and grammar) and reflect our thoughts on the strengths and limitations of empirical analysis
- Generate and evaluate solutions to case studies related to the English language in problem-based learning tutorials
- In classroom activities and tutorials, apply knowledge of empirical exploration of English and present ideas clearly and systematically
There will be one 3-hour active-learning lecture per week
Assessment is by 100% coursework, consisting of:
- Participation in assignment work (10%)
- Research Proposal - individual (30%)
- Corpus and summary - group (20%)
- Term paper - group (40%)
A list of primary and recommended readings will be provided.